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At a postgame news conference, Michael Jordan "sounded like a professorial elder statesman, saying he came back to help change the image of a league criticized for its young, spoiled stars": "I really felt that I wanted to instill some positive things back into the game. There are a lot of negative things that have been happening to the game, and I guess in terms of my coming back, I come back with the notion of the Magic Johnsons and the Larry Birds and the Dr. J's and all those players who paved the road for a lot of these young guys" (Melissa Isaacson, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/20). Jordan's statements "made it clear whatever the ratio of knuckleheads to professionals is, it's way too high for his liking" (Bryan Burwell, USA TODAY, 3/20). in L.A., Mark Heisler writes, "It's morning again in the NBA" (L.A. TIMES, 3/19). NBC's Bob Costas: "In a sports world darkened by constant talk of money, strikes and lockouts, here's a shining reminder of why we're drawn to sports in the first place. The drama, the anticipation, the sheer beauty of the moment. Today, an artist returns to his true canvas the hardwood court of the NBA" ("NBA on NBC," 3/19). THE DEAL: According to NEWSWEEK, Jordan will earn $46,000- a-game, or about $1M for the rest of the regular season. The weekly also reports that Jordan's agreement includes assurances that Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong will remain with the team (NEWSWEEK, 3/27 issue). There is an NBA moratorium on contract negotiations until there is a new CBA keeping Jordan and the Bulls from talking about a new deal (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/19). Jordan said he did not go into talks with Pippen's future in mind: "Of course, I asked about some things" (Mitch Lawrence, N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/20). Bulls Owner Jerry Reinsdorf said he expects Jordan to play three to four more years (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/19). THE CYNICS? A few columnists made references to Jordan's rumored gambling as a reason for his hiatus. In Denver, Bob Kravitz writes: "Did he really return for what he called 'the love of the game?' Or is he merely finishing off an unannounced 1 1/2-year ban for his gambling excesses?' ... I don't believe there was some backroom deal or some dirty little secret" (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/20). In Baltimore, Ken Rosenthal writes, "And so Michael Jordan's 17-month gambling suspension is over. That's what it was, not that anyone will admit it, not that anyone cares, now that we all get to breathe some fresh Air" (Baltimore SUN, 3/19). Reinsdorf: "Are you telling me then, if he was such a hot potato, that he could go right to baseball, which has even stricter rules about that stuff than basketball?" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/19). ODDS & ENDS: Jordan had his shorts on backwards during the game, with the NBA logo facing the wrong way. Hoop writer Kent Gilchrist wonders if he was marking his return with a fashion statement (Vancouver PROVINCE, 3/20).
NHL Commissioner GARY BETTMAN, Rangers GM & President NEIL SMITH and Rangers captain MARK MESSIER led the contingent at a Rose Garden ceremony during which PRESIDENT CLINTON was presented with a miniature Stanley Cup and a Rangers jersey. Clinton: "We've been trying to arrange this visit for some time, but what's a few months to 54 years" (THE DAILY)....Blazers owner and Microsoft co-founder PAUL ALLEN will become the "majority outside investor" in DreamWorks, the new entertainment company being formed by Steven Speilberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Allen will reportedly invest about $500M, giving him a stake "equal to or just under 20%" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/20).... Royals VP GEORGE BRETT is negotiating to buy the Duluth Dukes of the Northern League, with RUSH LIMBAUGH as one of his partners (Peter Gammons, BOSTON GLOBE, 3/19)....The NHL has hired KEN ROSEN away from NBA Entertainment. He will now be in charge of NHL Productions, a new division in charge of various video productions (Kevin Paul Dupont, BOSTON GLOBE, 3/19).... Sources say JIM CORNO, VP/GM of SportsChannel Chicago, has expressed an interest in becoming President of MSG Network (Bob Raissman, N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/19)....BONNIE BLAIR was interviewed on ABC's "Good Morning America" on her retirement from skating. Blair: "Hopefully I have brought the sport to a newer level, a higher level, and given some others something to chase, something to go for. But I am going out on top. I am happy" (ABC, 3/20).